Category Archives: Holiday

Indecent Lemony Almond Macaroons

Lemony ALmond Macaroons

Okay, so macaroons can’t really be indecent as they are thoroughly inanimate objects, but James made these for the pre-opening Wine and Unwind of Indecent last Sunday, so I thought the title was apt.  (FYI, Indecent, Paula Vogel’s play, opens at the Cort Theater on Tuesday, April 18.  Check it out here.)  These are also suitable for Passover.  I think.

Indecent Lemony Almond Macaroons

Ingredients:

1- 14-ounce package sweetened shredded coconut
1 cup sliced almonds
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 large egg whites
3-4 ounces dark chocolate

Method:

Heat oven to 325 F. In a large bowl, combine the coconut, almonds, sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Mix in the egg whites.

Drop mounds of the mixture (each equal to 2 tablespoons) onto 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Bake, switching the baking sheets halfway through, until the edges begin to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Or bake one pan at a time. Cool slightly on baking sheets, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Melt chocolate by boiling water in a pot and then putting chocolate in a stainless steel bowl and placing the bowl over the boiling water.  Stir frequently until almost completely melted, then remove pot from water and stir until smooth.

Dip cooled macaroons in the chocolate and place on waxed paper (Or be green and place them on the parchment paper they were baked on!!!) Drizzle remaining chocolate over the tops of the macaroons.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Hamantaschen

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Caroline here, hijacking the Backstage Baker’s blog to share a recipe I’m baking right now.

I’ll celebrate any holiday if it involves baking.  And today is one of my all-time favorite holidays – Purim – because it features the delectable pastry (pictured above) called hamantaschen.  (For those unfamiliar with them, hamentaschen are a sweet pastry/cookie filled with apricot, prune or poppy seed jams.)

Now, in case you don’t know, Purim is a Jewish holiday.   Described in the book of Esther, it celebrates the escape of the Jewish people from the annihilation planned by the evil Haman.  Long story short (and the long story involves people named Ahasuerus, Xerxes, Zeresh and many, many others) Haman was hanged on the very gallows that he’d built to exterminate the Jews, so Purim is a joyous holiday, full of festivities, costumes and fun.  I’m not quite sure why triangular pastries have such significance – some say they represent Haman’s ears, others that they resemble the pyramidal dice Haman used to decide the day of destruction, and still others say they look like popular hats worn back in 500 BC.  Regardless, they are unique and delicious!

Hamen Taschen
(Note, you’ll get the best results if you can refrigerate this dough overnight.  I’ve only been that organized once, but it really is worth it.)

Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice (extracted from above orange)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 large eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
Apricot, prune, poppy seed fillings (you can find these in the baking section of your grocery store)

Method:

1. Cream together butter and sugar until fluffy.

2. Add orange zest, orange juice, vanilla extract and 2 eggs.

3. Sift together flour, baking soda and salt.  Slowly add to butter mixture until just combined.

4. Divide dough into thirds, wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour.

5. Remove each chunk of dough one at a time and roll to 1/8” thickness.  With a 3” round cutter, cut out as many circles as possible and place on a cookie sheet. Whisk remaining egg and brush on edges of circles.  Put one teaspoon of filling in the middle of each dough circle and fold in sides to form a triangle.  Pinch the corners well to ensure the pastry keeps its shape when baking.  Put in refrigerator for 30 minutes to chill.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.   Bake until golden, 12 – 15 minutes.  Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then remove to racks.

Makes about 40.

4th of July cake

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Okay, I’m finally posting the recipe and directions for the divine and very impressive 4th of July Flag cake James made last year. Until I saw him do it, I would have thought it was far too difficult and never gotten farther than looking at the recipe online.  But as you can see below, the recipe itself is super easy, it’s just the putting it together that’s a challenge.  If you like puzzles, you’ll be in heaven.  If you don’t, well, you can just stuff handfuls of cake and frosting in your mouth.

Give it a try!

4th of July Flag Cake

Ingredients:

Three vanilla cake mixes (+ eggs, oil and whatever else they call for) — read the box and get the extra items before you leave the store.  You could of course make the cakes from scratch, but why?

Two containers of vanilla frosting. Any standard-sized store brand will do. (You won’t need all the frosting in both containers, but you’ll need more than one.)

One bottle of red food dye and one bottle of blue food dye.  You know, the little ones that come in the red, yellow, green, blue pack.

2 9″ cake pans.  You will, of course be making six cakes total, so budget your time accordingly.

A bowl or tin or anything with a 4″ diameter for cutting cake

Method:

First, read this all the way through before you start.  Seriously.

1.  Bake two 9″ vanilla cakes as directed on the mix box.  Add the entire bottle of red food coloring to batter as you mix it for 2 minutes.  Don’t even think about the perils of red dye #2 or whatever the current toxic number is.  You want to celebrate America, don’t you?

2.  Bake two more 9″ vanilla cakes as directed on the (second) mix box.  Do not add any color.

3.  Bake TWO MORE 9″ vanilla cakes. (See what I mean about budgeting your time?)  Pour half of the batter into the cake pan, then pour blue food coloring into remaining batter.  Use as much as necessary to achieve the proper blue color — I found I only need 1/2 a bottle, but perhaps my America blue is different from yours.  Experiment.

3.  Once you’ve baked and cooled all six cakes, let the cake puzzle assembly challenge begin!  (Note:  You will have extra cake layers that go unused in this recipe.  Cut them into cubes and then freeze them.  I will post a recipe for Patriotic Trifle shortly.)

4.  First, set up your cake stand/plate by placing four strips of wax papers around the edges in a square shape.  Put a dab of icing in the middle of the square to anchor the bottom cake layer.

5.  Slice one red cake in half horizontally to make two red layers.  Then slice one white cake the same way to make two white layers.

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6.  Place one red layer on the cake stand and frost.  Then place a white layer on top and frost.  Repeat with one more red and white layer.  Frost the top white layer.

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7.   Now, take your blue layer (do not slice this layer in half horizontally!).  Using your 4″ bowl or tin, cut a 4″ circle down into the cake.  Remove blue cake plug and set aside.  Place blue layer with the center missing on top of red/white layers.

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8.  Okay, still with me?  You should have one unsliced red and one unsliced white cake left.   Go ahead and slice them horizontally now. (You could do this step earlier when you slice the other ones — I just did it now because it kept things a little more organized in my head.)  Take one of the half slices of red and cut out a 4″ circle.  Do the same with the white half slice. Put the leftover cake aside.

Frost the top of the 4″ white circle and insert it into the blue cake.

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9.  Insert the red 4″ circle into the blue cake and you are finished assembling the cake!

10.  Now you’re ready to start frosting.  Brush off any excess crumbs (easier said than done, but do your best.)  Put a big glop of icing on top of the cake and start spreading it around.  (An offset spatula is really useful here.)

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11.  James likes to make attractive, Betty Crocker-like swooshes with his frosting:

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Ta da! ‘Merica!

IMG_1708Of course, now that I’m finally posting this, I think maybe a rainbow cake would really be the thing for this holiday.  Hmm . . .

Valentine’s Day Cookies — Reprise

vday cookies

First, a Hamilton update:

They’ve extended the run at the Public a third time (or is the fourth?) to May 3, and even before it’s opened, the show is the talk of the town.  Check out last Sunday’s NY Times article in the Arts and Leisure section.  If you still remember hard copy newspapers, this article was on the first page of the section and above the fold, which is a big deal in theater press agent land:

Above the fold

And since I’m on the topic, check out this New Yorker cartoon  (you know you’ve made it when the New Yorker mentions you in a cartoon!!):

 

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But now for the cookies:  I blogged this recipe back in February of 2013, and I’ve been making these treats for years, ever since James shared the recipe with me.  James tells me he too is making a batch of these for Valentine’s Day this year, so I figured I might as well re-blog it for the holiday.  (James, I must mention, has these nifty little cookie presses that put the words in his cookies.  No idea where he got them from (Sur la Table?  Broadway Panhandler?) and I have never seen them anywhere, but I love them!)

With a recipe this simple, using the best quality ingredients you can find/afford really makes a difference.  For example, I like to use Kerrygold Irish Butter, 100% pure vanilla extract, Ghirardelli baking cocoa, and Nestle’s chips.  But don’t let this list deter you from making these cookies — it’s always better to choose to bake no matter what ingredients you have on hand!  (And, full disclosure, I never have all those ingredients on hand anyway.  Someday, though, I will.  And the cookie presses!)

Valentine’s Day Cookies

Ingredients:

1 1/4 cup butter softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened baking cocoa
1 cup vanilla chips
2 Tablespoons shortening
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

Method:

1.            Cream butter and sugar, beat in vanilla.  Combine flour and cocoa in a separate bowl and gradually add to creamed mixture.

2.            On lightly floured surface roll out dough to 1/4 inch thickness. Cut with heart cookie cutter. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes.

3.            For icing, melt vanilla chips and 1 tablespoon of shortening.  (I do this in the microwave in short, 10 second bursts, stirring between each zap.)  Dip both end of cookies into melted mixture. Heat chocolate chips and remaining shortening and drizzle over dipped cookies.  (I find the best way to drizzle is to scrape the slightly cooled, melted chocolate into a zip top bag, seal it, snip off a tiny corner and squeeze.)

Happy (belated) 4th!

IMG_1709The Backstage Baker outdid himself this year, with an absolutely stupendous creation.  Please to enjoy! (Directions and the recipe to follow shortly.)

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Salted Chocolate Caramels

Salted Chocolate CaramelsOkay, I’ve hijacked this blog once again to post a recipe of my own.  Well, not exactly my own, it actually comes from the now sadly defunct “Gourmet Magazine,” circa 2006.  But this is my go-to Christmas gift.  Some people bake scads of holiday cookies and while I’ve done that too, it’s these Salted Chocolate Caramels that people actually remember and ask for, year after year.  So here’s the recipe.

One important note:  Candy thermometers and specific temperatures can make a recipe sound onerous and difficult, but the secret to this one is to read it all the way through each time you make it.  I know, you’re ALWAYS supposed to read recipes all the way through, but I’m lazy and don’t.  Trust me when I tell you I’ve thrown out just about as many batches as I’ve given away.  And really, it’s all because I forget to read through the recipe.  Just do it.  It’s really not that hard.  (The recipe, that is!)

Salted Chocolate Caramels
(from Gourmet Magazine, 2006)

Ingredients:
2 cups heavy cream
10 1/2 oz fine-quality dark chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt such as Maldon
Vegetable oil for greasing

Method:
1.  Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch straight-sided square metal baking pan with 2 long sheets of crisscrossed parchment.

2.  Bring cream just to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.

3.  Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot (I like to use a ceramic-coated, Le Creuset-style Dutch oven) over moderate heat,  stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes.

4.  Carefully pour in chocolate mixture (be warned:  mixture will bubble and steam vigorously). Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255°F on thermometer, about 15 minutes.  Be precise about this temperature — anything above 255 will give you an almost solid, hard candy.

5.  Add butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom or side of saucepan or else your finished product will have a burnt flavor to it.)

6. Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in pan on a rack, about 2 hours.

7.  Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up.

8.  Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares.

Yield: 64 caramels

More notes: Additional sea salt can be pressed onto caramels after cutting.

Caramels keep, layered between sheets of parchment or wax paper, in an airtight container at cool room temperature 2 weeks or they can be wrapped in 4-inch squares of wax paper; twist ends to close.

Check out my pal Miranda Levenstein’s recipe blog here — she has this recipe posted there too, but with how-to pictures.

Egg Nog and Chocolate Babka – A Sublime Holiday Partnership

Babka

Now these next two recipes are from me, not our Backstage Baker, but he has given his seal of approval for both.  And, if I do say so myself, they really are a perfect treat for the holidays.   I made them both last Sunday and enjoyed them with my boys after we participated in a local Messiah sing-a-long.

I just have to digress and tell you about this Messiah.  On one level, I must confess, it was the most ear-cringingly bad rendition of this holiday classic that you are ever likely to hear.  The orchestra was chaotic, the singers were pitchy, and no one, it seemed, could count.  Handel must have been rolling over in his grave.

However, it was, conversely, also one of the most magical Messiahs I’ve ever experienced.  Everyone involved was in the same boat – all doing our very best to steer through the treacherous waters of a very sophisticated and difficult oratorio.  And we all had to approach it with the same sense of enthusiasm and willingness to fail in order to perform.   No one could judge anyone else because, well, no one knew their part perfectly.  My inner soprano, of course, sat next to my inner critic, and they tsk’d and humpf’d and shook their heads at the untold mistakes swirling about:  “If you’re going to be THIS bad, then don’t do it at all!” they cried.  However, we collectively refused to buy into negativity and pushed on regardless.   And every once in a while we all got it together and were rewarded with a glorious, perfect chord or three.  Like in the Hallelujah – everyone could belt that out and it was divine.  Those few moments of sublime partnership made the rest of it all worthwhile.  And, in the end, isn’t that what the holidays (and life) are all about?

Light Egg Nog

I love egg nog, but it’s often so heavy and fatty that I can’t eat anything else after a glass.   And who wants to miss eating all those delectable holidays treats?  So, I’ve experimented over the years with various “light” recipes that I’ve found in magazines and on the Internet, and this is what I’ve come up with.  My kids ask for it every year and now, they can even (mostly) make it themselves!

SBC Nog making

Ingredients:

2 cups milk
2 large strips orange or lemon zest
1 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp. vanilla extract)
2 large eggs + 1 egg yolk
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch (dissolve it thoroughly in 1 tablespoon of warm water to avoid lumpy nog!)
White run or bourbon (optional.  Do not give liquored up nog to children.)
Ground nutmeg, for garnish (freshly grated if you have it!!)

Method:

1.  Combine 1 1/2 cups milk and citrus zest in a medium saucepan.  Split vanilla bean in half and scrape out seeds.  Add seeds and pod to pot and bring to a simmer.

2.  Meanwhile, whisk eggs, cornstarch and sugar in a medium bowl until pale yellow.

3.  Gradually pour hot milk mixture into egg mixture, whisking constantly, then pour back into saucepan.  Place over medium heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.

4.  Remove from heat and immediately stir in last 1/2 cup of milk to stop the cooking.  Sit bottom of pot into a large bowl with ice and water, stirring until cool.  Chill further in fridge until ready to serve.

5.  Removed zest strips and vanilla pod.  Spike with liquor, if desired and garnish with nutmeg.

Bread Machine Chocolate Babka (adapted from Cooking Light Magazine, 2009)

Ingredients:

For babka dough:

3/4 cup warm, 1% milk
6 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups bread flour
5 tbsp. butter, cut into pieces

For babka filling:
1/2 cup sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 oz. mini chocolate chips (or finely chopped semi sweet chocolate bar)

Method:

1. Put all dough ingredients (in order listed above) into bread maker and set on “Dough” setting.  When dough is complete, remove from bread maker and stretch/roll/knead it out into a 16″ square.

2. Sprinkle filling over dough, leaving a 1/2″ border around the edges.

3. Roll up dough tightly, then twist, pinching seam and ends to seal. Fit dough into bread loaf pan that has been coated with cooking spray. Allow to rise for 45 minutes.

4. Bake in 350* oven for approximately 40 minutes (until brown on top and sounding hollow when rapped on bottom.)

5. Coo1 completely (or at least mostly) before slicing, otherwise it will fall apart!

NOTE:  I have split the dough into thirds and made mini-babkas in mini-loaf pans.  These make excellent holiday gifts!